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Uri Levy

Arab football season kicks-off a week full of derbies

Egyptian singer Tamer Hosny sings before Arabian Gulf Supercup match between Al-Jazira and Al-Ahli [AFP]

Date of publication: 26 September, 2016

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The Middle Eastern season only officially started last week, but this week was already producing some important matches with a handful of heated derby matches and decisive games.

The Middle Eastern season only officially started last week, but this week was already producing some important matches with a handful of heated derby matches and decisive games. From Saudi Arabia to Syria, and Palestine to Morocco through Istanbul.

On Sunday (18.9), Ittihad Jeddah’s Egyptian forward Mahmoud Kaharaba scored an amazing super hat-trick (four goals) for his team against Al-Wahda Mecca. Ittihad won 5-3, but the high score wasn’t the only story of this match.

The yellow and black team replaced its shirts sponsor with the sentence “Abu Omar is in our Hearts” (
ابو عمر في قلوبنا ) in honor of former club president Ahmed Masood, who passed away during the teams last camp in Turkey. In addition, after the match a young Ittihadi fan lost both of his legs after being involved in a car accident in Jeddah.

Man of the match Kaharaba
 went to the kids hospital and gave him his game’s shirt. This is what football is all about, simply class.

The AFC Cup came back to action on Monday (20.9), with some crucial matches for Arab teams. Syrian Al-Jaish hosted the Iraqi Al Quwa Al-Jawiya at the Saoud bin Abdulrahaman Stadium in Al-Wakrah, Qatar. Bashar Resan starred in the second half with a goal and assists, helping his team demolish the Syrians 4-0, which sent the Iraqis to the semifinals with a 1-5 in aggregate.
 
The day after Lebanese Al Ahed traveled to Bahrain in order to play Almuharraq on another all-Arab quarter final of the competition. Thanks to Nigerian Musa Kabiru and local boy Ahmad Zreik, Al-Ahed won 0-2 and completed a sweep of 0-3 in aggregate. An Iraqi-Lebanese stew at the AFC Cup semis will be a treat for sure.

In the Saudi Pro League, Nawaf Al Abid scored on his 100th appearance for Saudi mega club Al-Hilal on Thursday the 22.9. Al-Abid, the face and symbol of Al-Hilal, helped his team to take over Al-Qudisiya 2-1. As for one of the biggest clubs in the Middle East, the stress is the bon-ton at Al-Hilal. 

The victory didn’t convince the fans or the board, so despite three victories, one draw and one loss, Al-Hilal sacked Uruguayan coach Gustavo Matosas after just five games. Tough conditions in Saudi football.

From this point, the week was all about local derbies.

In Hebron, the local Derby between Ahli Al-Khaleel and Shabab Al-Khaleel took place on Thursday, and enjoyed a quite weird innovation by the Palestinian FA. After the league’s first matchday was highly aggressive with 24 cards in six matches, the FA decide to hand Fines for yellow cards, in order to cool down the play – ten Jordanian dinars for each card. It was partly successful, as two cards were shown towards each team.

Al-Ahli dominated the game and scored first through the Gazan revelation - Ibrahim Habibi, while Shabab’s galacitcos struggled. Ahmad Abu Nahia saved a point for the champions when scored the equalizer on the 93rd minute with a shot from distance. Hebron is divided.

A class act from a player to a fan in Jeddah, an all-Arab at the AFC Cup semifinal, fierce derbies of 1-1 ties across the region, and a crazy game in North Africa that concluded with a Middle Eastern representative in the African Champions League final. Arab football got on high temperatures early on the season

On Friday (23.9) three derbies were played at the same time - in Jeddah, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. 


In Saudi Arabia, Al-Ahli played Ittihad for Jeddah’s city prestige, in front of 50,000 fans. The Saudi national Independence Day was celebrated with a royal ceremony at the pregame and included performers, dances and swords. The match was less festive, until the 74th minute with intense ten minutes with two goals concluded with a 1-1 tie.

The derby of Abu Dhabi between Al-Wahda and Al-Jazira included also a meeting between two great coaches – Javier Aguirre and Henk ten Cate – and two South American legends – Chilean Jorge Valdivia and Peruvian Jefferson Farfán.  The match attracted the highest attendance of the season so far in the Arabian Gulf League – 8,300. Despite the notable coaches, the big-names and the number of fans, the derby did not reach to a high level of football and concluded, as every other derby this weekend, with a 1-1 tie.

The last derby of the weekend was also the last Super Cup match of the season. Friday evening  in Kuwait, saw the two clubs of capital Madinat Kuwait, Al-Qadsia and Al-Kuwait, fight for the silverware and the city’ supremacy. An exciting match with two come backs and four goals, ended with another (!) tie, this time 2-2. The match went to penalty kicks where Al-Kuwait kept their nerves, scored their kicks accurately and celebrated with their first 2016/17 title.

The week ended with a North African thriller on Saturday night (24.9). 

Moroccan champions Wydad Casablanca hosted Egyptian Zamalek for the CAF Champions League semifinal second leg, and it got intense, to say the least.

Zamalek, who won the first match in Cairo 4-0, came calm and easy knowing that Wydad will need at least four goals to go through. What they did not notice, was the Moroccan volcano that was waiting for them in Rabat.

Wydad opened as a thunderbolt, scoring two goals in the first fifteen minutes. Basem Morsy scored for Zamalek before the break in order to make it 2-1, but then Wydad pushed more. The Moroccans scored three goals without an answer by the 64th minute, with a brace by Congolese star Fabrice Ondama, who led his team to an impressive 5-1 lead and inflamed the fans.

Wydad attacked and pressured Zamalek to its own goal, but on the 81st minute Zamalek Nigerian Ohawuchi scored on a counter attack, and sealed the destiny of Wydad, as he ran in ecstasy towards the 50 fans of Zamalek in their isolated stand. The Egyptian ex-champions will Mamelodi Sundowns from South Africa in the final.

A class act from a player to a fan in Jeddah, an all-Arab at the AFC Cup semifinal, fierce derbies of 1-1 ties across the region, and a crazy game in North Africa that concluded with a Middle Eastern representative in the African Champions League final. Arab football got on high temperatures early on the season.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.

 

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